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Forest Hills Writer Pens New Memoir on Life in Queens and Beyond

 “Playing Catch with Strangers” by Bob Brody is due out on June 18.
“Playing Catch with Strangers” by Bob Brody is due out on June 18.
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Courtesy of Bob Brody

QUEENS — Essayist Bob Brody has seen plenty of changes in Forest Hills since he moved to the neighborhood about four decades ago.

He watched its ethnic mosaic changing over the years while shooting hoops at a local playground.

He cheered the opening of Barnes and Nobles in the neighborhood in 1995 and then mourned its closing 20 years later.

He got the scare of his life when he saw a man running with a gun towards him and his wife while they were sitting in a restaurant on Austin Street about 10 years ago.

Brody, 65, who currently works as an executive at public relations firm Weber Shandwick, began writing personal essays about 12 years ago about his various experiences and observations, some of which were later published in the New York Times and the Daily News.

Later this month, more than 100 of them will be published as part of his new book “Playing Catch with Strangers.”

"Those essays were usually about my family, my friends, neighborhood, basketball, immediate concerns," he said. "And after awhile I realized that without realizing it and without intending to I had written more or less a memoir, except I’ve done it piecemeal."

The essays span a variety of topics, from his upbringing with deaf parents to playing catch with a boy he met during a family vacation in Mystic, Connecticut, an experience he saw as a metaphor for his life, which later gave the title to the book.

He dedicated one of his pieces to a Forest Hills doorman he met at a Dunkin' Donuts on Ascan Avenue, who received a fortune from a tenant he was helping out. The doorman later gave much of his money away to orphanages and schools in developing countries. 

Several essays talk about the uniqueness of Queens, a constantly changing melting pot of people and cultures. 

Over the years, Brody watched how the make up of the kids playing at the J.H.S. 190 Russell Sage playground has been gradually changing from those of mostly European descent to players from Russia, the Middle East and South Asia.

“I wrote a piece about it that gave me the opportunity to celebrate Queens and how Queens is really what I think the world should look like," he said. "Namely all of us living together side by side.”

His long walks around Queens' green spaces, especially Flushing Meadows Corona Park, prompted him to write how soccer and cricket became popular games where softball and basketball used to dominate.

“I see people from South America playing soccer and people from Bombay playing cricket,” he said.

“The Olympics have nothing on Queens. In Queens, we have the Olympics going on every day — people from all nations, playing all sports, all the time," he noted.

“Playing Catch with Strangers” is Brody’s second book. The first one, “Edge Against Cancer,” was published about 25 years ago and talked about 12 athletes who developed cancer, but later recovered to compete again.

Bob Brody’s "Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age" will be available on Father's Day (June 18). Published by Heliotrope Books, the book will cost $17.